South Sudan: Where are all the Teachers?

Children at the Gudele West Basic School, outside Juba, South Sudan May 2013. Credit: GPE/David K. Bridges

Higher student enrollment means more teachers are needed

On a recent visit to South Sudan (which became an independent nation in 2011), I wanted to get a better handle on how that country’s government, international donors, and civil society have worked together over the past decade to build an education system, largely from scratch. I came away with a better appreciation of South Sudan’s education challenges particularly the need to find, hire, and pay its teachers.  It’s a problem that’s turning into a crisis.

In South Sudan, primary school enrollment has increased dramatically in recent years, more than doubling from 700,000 to 1.5 million between 2006 and 2010. That’s a good thing for this new yet war-torn nation, but it comes with a critical caveat: the more children enroll, the more acute South Sudan’s teacher shortage becomes.

More teachers needed

Currently, there are more than 100 students per teacher. With ratios like that, it’s little wonder that only 1 out of 4 children reaches sixth grade (World Bank 2012). If the worthy goal of Universal Primary Education is ever to be reached in South Sudan, an equally worthy goal—that of a paid and qualified teacher for every 50 children—must be met first. This is easier said than done.

sudan 060South Sudan’s primary enrollment estimates for 2015 range between 1.8 to 3.5 million children. Assuming a student: teacher ratio of 50:1 — already quite high by some standards — such enrollments will require between 35,000 and 75,000 trained teachers. Currently, about 26,000 teachers serve in South Sudan’s primary schools, but only about 18,000 teachers are currently on government payroll. Only about 4,000 of these teachers are qualified.  Add to this that South Sudan’s public teacher training colleges are currently closed due to government austerity measures, and the gravity of the problem becomes clear: Where will the necessary teachers come from? Who will pay them? How will they be trained?

Teacher hiring and training must be a priority

There are no easy answers, as members of South Sudan’s Ministry of General Education and Instruction, and its international supporters, are well aware.

Yet I would argue that among many competing priorities faced by the Ministry, teacher education—and the related issue of adequate and timely teacher compensation—must become a top shared priority for government and foreign donors alike.

Without adequate numbers of qualified and paid teachers, South Sudan’s promise of universal primary education will remain empty, and its goal of improved lives and opportunities for this new country’s millions of young citizens—will be that much harder to reach.


Sub-Saharan Africa: South Sudan


Cornelia Janke is a senior technical adviser and international development specialist at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) based in Massachusetts. She has nearly 20 years' experience in the international education field...

Latest blogs

According to new data released today by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and...
On the International Day of Peace, let’s redouble our efforts to put in place necessary policies and strategies to maximize the positive effects of education on peace.
Follow live: Financing the Future: Education 2030, a high-level event at the UN General Assembly will address the alarming education crisis the world is facing and seek commitments from both...